Wherever you go, there you are

Buddhism 101 explains how happiness and suffering are states of mind, and how external conditions can only make us happy if our mind is peaceful. Even if we are in the most blissful surroundings and have everything we need — the one time we might reasonably expect to be deliriously happy — we’re still not if any agitation is arising in our mind for any reason.

Let’s say you’re having a particularly amazing experience. It’s your birthday party, your devoted friends have been planning it for months, and it is taking place on an exotic island. Every single one of your best friends since early childhood has been invited and can be there; it’s a miracle! The food is incredible and none of it has any calories. Wafting scented breezes, lapping waves, soft lighting, your favorite music, the perfect temperature…. It’s paradise, isn’t it? What’s the problem? There isn’t one!

paradise lost through angerBut then one of your childhood friends says something a bit off color, like “You’ve put on weight!” or “So you haven’t done much with your life, then…” And you immediately think, “That was cruel!” and maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, but it’s a little dagger in your heart. It could be anything, and it doesn’t have to be much. All that has to happen is for you to get a bit upset, a little irritated, and the happiness starts to seep out of the whole event.

“I wish I hadn’t invited you!” you think to yourself. This is followed by a spontaneous recall of all the mean things they’ve ever said to you, and suddenly you can’t let it go. All the magic and fun of the party has been sucked out, it’s gone. Your experience has changed because now you’re in a bad mood. Now you’re having an ordinary, boring day, just as if you were chained back at your desk.

You can run, but you can’t hide

As they say, you can run but you can’t hide. We’ve taken our same old states of mind to this paradise, so our happiness can be destroyed in a moment, just as the tranquility of an ocean can be destroyed by a sudden storm. As my teacher puts it:

Even if we are in the most beautiful surroundings and have everything we need, the moment we get angry any happiness we may have disappears. This is because anger has destroyed our inner peace. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6

I bet all of us can think of examples like this – we were having the time of our life and then it just collapsed.

We can see from this that if we want true, lasting happiness we need to develop and maintain a special experience of inner peace. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6

We need to find a way to keep a happy mind regardless of what happens because s*** happens. Even today I’ll wager that a bunch of annoying things have already happened? And that some of the things that you wanted to happen didn’t happen?

Did you have a problem today?

A long time ago I was doing a Post Graduate Certificate in Education in York, UK. Soon after we arrived, we were all asked to sit in a large circle, and I was sitting to the right of the moderator. Starting from her left, she went round each person in turn, asking solicitously: “What problems are you having?”

Now, weirdly, when she started, I had no problems. I was feeling very happy. I had been meditating for a few years already, so I also knew that problems were not as fixed as they had once appeared. But as she worked her way around the group, and everyone came up with their dreadful and seemingly intractable problems, I did start to feel nervous. “What the heck am I going to say when she asks me?!” I now had a problem, albeit a small one. I cast around wildly in my memories for something that had gone wrong that week, and think I gamely came up with something in the nick of time.

solving problems with meditationI found it quite interesting that every single one of these cool young people, however together and sorted they looked on the outside, had a major problem. It is something I remember when I have problems in order to gain perspective — I am by no means alone. I have tried out the same market research quite often since then in a shortened form, and by all means try it yourself if you like. If you ask a group of friends, “Did you have a problem today?”, I bet 99% will say yes (and then look at each other in surprised recognition).

Things are always going to go wrong, one way or another, so if this throws us off balance we’re going to be unhappy — a lot. Therefore, we’ve got to find a way to be peaceful and positive no matter what’s going on.

Baby steps to nirvana

As Geshe Kelsang says:

The only way to do this is by training our mind through spiritual practice—gradually reducing and eliminating our negative, disturbed states of mind and replacing them with positive, peaceful states. Eventually, through continuing to improve our inner peace we will experience permanent inner peace, or nirvana. Once we have attained nirvana we will be happy throughout our life, and in life after life. ~ Transform Your Life, p. 6-7

Nirvana (a Sanskrit word) means liberation, permanent inner peace, or true mental freedom. But nirvana is not some pie in the sky thing. The way all the so-called Foe Destroyers (who have destroyed the inner foes of their delusions) and enlightened beings have come to experience this forever inner peace is through developing moments of inner peace and learning to connect them.

Buddha happiness is withinFor example, every once in a while we feel a state of deep well-being, a feeling of peace or connection—life is good! This usually lasts between a few seconds and half an hour ~ it doesn’t last that long, does it? But at these points we really get a glimpse of what our life could be about. Why don’t we just stay here, seeing as we like it so much? It’s because some negative thought interrupts as we’re not in control of our mind.

Buddha’s point is that those moments we get of joy, peace, and contentment, even bliss, are a manifestation of our own Buddha nature, our boundless potential for lasting peace, universal love and compassion, omniscient wisdom, endless joy and flexibility, incredible goodness. Buddha called it Buddha nature because we all, without exception, have the potential not just for liberation but to be a Buddha, a fully awakened person who has all good qualities to perfection.

baby steps to enlightenment

So how do we get there? Baby steps. We gradually train our mind so we can find and hold the positive, peaceful feelings, like love for others, for longer and longer periods of time, always identifying with them and giving ourselves permission to stay there. We gradually clear our minds of all obstructive, destructive thoughts that interrupt, letting the clouds disperse from the sky. We can do all this because we have the potential and we have the methods. And as soon as we’ve attained the true and lasting mental freedom of liberation we’ll be happy throughout our life, and in any future life.

Happiness now, happiness later

In Buddhism, we talk about how our mind and our body are different natures. Our body is like a guest house for our mind. There is no use pretending that this body is anything other than a piece of meat with a rapidly approaching expiration date. But we are not our body; we are so much more than our body. Our mind has limitless potential.

At the point when the body dies, our mind does not die because it is a formless continuum of awareness that never stops. Our gross waking minds do stop — they dissolve into our subtle mind, and this dissolves into our very subtle mind that travels onto our next life. Buddha’s understanding of life after life comes from the direct experience that mind is formless. Happiness will always depend upon the positive qualities in the formless continuum of our mind and not on externals, and that is not going to change. Wherever you go, there you are. Therefore, if we want to be peaceful and happy in this life and in any future lives, we need to develop and maintain these qualities as a matter of priority.

Over to you: do you agree that to be happy we need to train our minds? Or can we find lasting happiness in other ways?

Author: Luna Kadampa

Based on 40 years' experience, I write about applying meditation and modern Buddhism to improve and transform our everyday lives and societies. I try to make it accessible to everyone anywhere who wants more inner peace and profound tools to help our world, not just Buddhists. Do make comments any time and I'll write you back!

36 thoughts on “Wherever you go, there you are”

  1. I am training to follow the steps to nirvana, as hard as it may seem, it is possible with deliberate practice and your posts add meaning and help me with the practice. Thank you for everything. Peace.

  2. hi Kadampa Luna,
    i often read your blogs but this is my first comment. I woke up this morning,prepared breakfast and next thing was to guiltily open my laptop as usual.( i could have picked up a book,done my puja , gone for a walk.) My intention was to catch up on UK news.
    I took a glance at my facebook first and then saw your article. How could I feel guilty anymore when connecting to such meaningful words.It particularly struck a chord when you wrote ‘wherever you go,there you are’.I never settle anywhere for long .Not sure if I’m escaping or returning but I still have this ‘mind ‘to deal with as you say.I have been a Kadampa for ten years( can’t believe it!) I know it is the answer BUT my rebellious self/mind takes some training.Hahaha.
    A simple thank you for these wonderful teachings.

    1. Ten years is not long compared to how many years we’ve spent following our delusions without realizing it 😉 But with determination and mindfulness we can nail this in a relatively short time because we are connecting to our own reality, finally.

  3. Hi Luna, just what I needed to read.. Thank-you for your teachings. I don’t comment a lot, but couldn’t sleep last night over something that stirred up anger and resentment in me. After reading your article and meditating I realized I let my mind bring up all those feelings. Thank-you–Once again your article has helped me bring things into perspective. I don’t have to let things disturb my peace of mind…… xoxo– (Florida Cathy Green)

  4. Well, I’m also conviced the way to Nirvana is through a peaceful mind, but I think there are many ways to achieve such state of mind, not only the way of specific training. For example, the way of love, i mean pure inconditional love, as many saints did, or the way of suffering, that shows us what we are not. In this alternative ways the mind is purified as a side effect.

  5. I loved your comment about the body at the end. It’s so funny I had nearly this exact thought the other day. I was out running for the first time in weeks and running clothes are brightly colored and tight (ie, not at all flattering) and I began to get upset that my belly was flopping around and I thought everyone would notice. Then I forced myself to think about why I was running. The answer is to stay healthy for my friends and family so that I can meditate, follow the path for as long as possible and to take care of the people around me….in short, not to be a super model. After all, this body is just a bag of meat for carrying out the (hopefully) good intentions to help everyone find their bit of happiness. I instantly felt better and went on about my running, I mean who cares what a bag of meat looks like in neon blue shorts anyway 😉

  6. Great voice, please grant your blessings that I may be free from the three poisons.

  7. Another insightful article Luna, thanks. our mind are so fragile, aren’t they. Without the protection of Dharma we’re far too vulnerable.
    * About the adverts. I don’t know how it is for WP.org users, but WP.com folk can add a bit extra to their annual subscription to keep their blogs ad free. I thought it was via the Dashboard – store – ? But I can’t find it now. WP help are terribly good though 🙂

  8. Thanks Luna. Happiness exists in, and comes from the peaceful mind only. Life and the teachings show this to be the only truth about the source of happiness.

  9. Peace certainly comes from within, and we won’t find it anywhere else no matter how hard we try, because it dosn’t exist anywhere else.

    Ironically enough there’s an advert for Stella Artois at the bottom of yr post, which crucially emphasises how useless it is to look for happiness anywhere else, no matter how well it’s advertised.

    1. Thanks Jinxy.

      (I took the link off as i wasn’t sure if it you had put it in deliberately or if it had been spam generated, I’ve had a few of those; what was the link to?)

      I’m looking into ways to turn the advertising off this site! 🙂

      1. That link was kosher, it was to a collage illustrating that happiness is only to be found within, and not outside ourselves. I thought it went well with this post but I should’ve explained what it was rather than just adding it in there, sorry to be a bother – you were right to delete it. And I liked that the beer advert provided a good juxtaposition to your point. I know that wasn’t intended, but it did work.

        1. Hi Jinxy, by all means add the link again. Also, your comment inspired me to pay to have the advertising removed from this site, so thank you!

          1. Sweet :), it’s worth a mention for people what want an illustration of your post. http://wp.me/p1ZGTS-2KT (Peace comes from within, do not seek it without, via cosmic loti).
            Good decision about the beer adverts, money well spent. Although the last one did have juxtaposition value, I doubt the others worked quite so well ;).

      1. Thanks Luna. Still trying to figure out how to reblog an article without it showing me as the author!
        Tried it via the reblog button then out showed me as the author??! X

  10. Living experiences is for learning,what ever happens, opens to consciousness,any times it will eventually happens.So with the help of our friends and experiencing hardship and good moments,we will understand that all is from the mind, then we engage on understanding our own mind,the reactions it produces,this is first step on training the mind.Thank You Sanga for helping me to open my mind in heart,and strive on the training of my own mind.( that is connected with all sentient beings)

  11. Well being a certain age I’ve had a go at lots of stuff and discovered it didn’t bring lasting happiness, so that’s why Geshe Kelsangs teachings rang so true about training the mind. (That’s not to say I have yet peeled away all the layers of attachment sitting there pretending to be a cause of happiness…..)
    I can see with younger people especially teenagers that they are transforming into adults with freedom to try all kinds of new things which strongly look like true causes of happiness, their excitement is almost contagious, so much so that I have to remind myself ‘been there done that and it doesn’t last’……..I just hope they don’t take as long as I did to figure out that externals don’t provide the happiness they seek.

    1. I suppose that depends on what ideas they are exposed to. It is really good, I think, that we are now paying more attention to kids, there are a lot more meditation courses on for them. And the school in Derbyshire. There is also a good Facebook page for parents, which i mentioned in a recent post.

  12. I agree absolutely. Lately, I’ve been noticing that “good” events in samsara can cause almost as much disturbance as “bad” events. For example, we lose our job and worry about finances going forward. Then, we get a chance at a job even better than the one we lost. But that causes us to fret over the interview and whether we’ll be chosen for the position. We are chosen! Yay! But now thoughts of how to spend the big new salary intrude on our peace and we get a sort of feverish excitement that is not really peaceful, either. Then, to top it all off, we may start to have thoughts of how much cleverer we are than everyone else–we HAVE been chosen for that fabulous job after all… And those thoughts often don’t lead to compassion or inner peace. All of samsara seems to me to be suffering whether it looks like it at first glance or not.

    1. Very true. What you say reminds me of the analogy for samsaric sufferings given in the scriptures — waves on a huge ocean. Waves never end of their own accord.

  13. nirvana, what a lovely place to be 🙂 liberated and free
    i wish this for myself and all other living beings now and forever more 🙂

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